The Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia), with its distinctive oval paddles dotted with spines, flowers and fruits, prefers the arid lands of Las Americas.
A wild Prickly Pear cactus growing on the Pyramid in Cholula, Mexico.Prickly Pear cactus growing in rather adverse conditions up on the second floor of a pink building in Mexico City.At the ruins of La Quemada near Guadalajara a guide told us that most desert plants and animals were either poisonous or sharp and prickly in some way.
This cosseted Teddy Bear cactus in a terracotta pot in Huatalco, Mexico has soft-looking fuzzy spines that beg you to touch them. But don’t!This Cacto Morado (purple cactus) is a prickly pear cactus found in Arizona. I got the name Cacto Morado from a small desert garden that someone had added labels to. Checking it out in google it appears that its real name is Opuntia santarita which makes sense as we spent one day going for a walk in the nearby Santa Rita Mountains. I saw three distinctly different types of Cacto morado cactus in Arizona, each with their own personality. Although it appears that these two may both be ‘Santa Rita’ Prickly Pears, as they apparently become more purple, and less fleshy during a drought. The above shot was taken during the big desert bloom after tons of rain; below was taken a few years earlier during a period of drought.Purple prickly pear number 3. This one for sure is different with the paddles much spinier and less round than the Santa Rita versions. I believe it is called Opuntia violacea.There are even low-growing prickly pear cactus found in Canada’s Okanogan. The yellow flowers come out in June. The flowers can get quite gaudy like these Mexican hot pink ones. I even tried to desaturate the colours on this image, and I see the that the paddles are less green but the flowers are still way hotter pink than they should be! The symbol of Mexico is an eagle grasping a snake in its beak while perched on a cactus, a prickly pear. The Prickly Pear cactus is a Mexican favourite where they eat the spiky paddles which they call ‘nopales’. Below was a traditional breakfast meal for the indigenas of Mexico: a slightly sour ‘nopal’ together with ‘frijoles’ (beans).
Here are a batch of nopales being defanged in the Merced market in Mexico City. One way to prepare them is to cut the nopales into ‘hands’ and grill. (How to prepare cactus paddles.) Mexicans are also fond of the fruit, which they call ‘tunas’, full of juicy seeds. This fruiting prickly pear was growing at the archeological site of Tula just outside of Mexico City.Arizona fruits.A different sort of Prickly Pear cactus at Hortus Botanical Garden in Amsterdam – I assume the fruits may also be edible(?)